ALTON, Va. (October 5, 2008) – After six hours of competition on the challenging 3.27-mile Virginia International Raceway, the No. 59 ROUSH/Valvoline Mustang came up less than a quarter of a second from winning their first race in the last race of the KONI Challenge season.
#59 Catches air in turn 4 at VIR
Photos by Jeff Kluss/ SIT
For this event, more than double the length of a normal KONI Challenge race, regular drivers Jack Roush, Jr. and Dean Martin teamed up with 19-year old Ryan Phinny to share the duties behind the wheel. It would be the first KONI Challenge race for Phinny, but not the first Grand-Am race as he had a standout season in the Rolex GT Series despite having limited starts this year.
#59 Leading the pack in turn 10 at VIR on lap 28
The team qualified in fourth position with Martin behind the wheel, a change in strategy from the other events this season which saw Roush as qualifier. At the green flag Martin quickly moved up to third and eventually took the lead on lap 28 as the pit sequences began. He paced the field until lap 33 when he dove into pit lane for fuel, four fresh tires and a driver change.
Phinny was next behind the wheel and he came out in 17th position. Still getting a feel for the KONI Challenge Mustang, which is much different than any type of car he has driven before, Phinny methodically worked his way through the field by passing cars on the track and as the different pit strategies played out. He moved into fourth position by lap 52, and then one more spot by lap 59 where, amazingly, he was running his fastest lap times despite having well-worn tires at this point of the event.
#59 Phinney on lap 59 at turn 11
On lap 61 Phinny took the point and tallied up his first laps led in KONI Challenge competition in his very first race in the series. He pulled into the pits on lap 64 and turned the wheel over to Roush who, with a fresh set of tires and a full tank of gas, came back into the fight in 11th place.
Roush began his march to the front by running consistent lap times and making calculated passes. A full course yellow flew and Roush dove in for a pit stop on lap 86 when he was running in second place. The Rehagen Racing team elected to take four tires and fuel, but left Roush in the car for a second stint. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the lug nuts on the right rear and Roush came out in 13th, the last car still on the lead lap.
Cool behind the wheel, Roush took to the challenge and began retaking the lost spots and eventually took the lead on lap 102. He led for three laps, and then gave up the top position to Rehagen Racing teammate Matt Plumb who was on a different pit sequence and had fresher rubber on his No. 60 Sunset Hills Vineyard Mustang.
Another full course yellow flew on lap 123 and one lap later Roush pitted and turned the car back over to Martin during a frantic pit road session that saw all the leaders pitting together in the same section with cars in front and behind the No. 59 ROUSH/Valvoline Mustang.
#59 midway up the Back Straight
Martin came out ninth with just over an hour left in the marathon. He had the Mustang flying, was posting the fastest lap times of any car on the track at that point, and quickly sliced his way through the field. He retook the lead on lap 138 with only 40 minutes left in the race, and had his teammate Hugh Plumb in the No. 60 Mustang on his bumper running second.
Martin was running quickly and led for six circuits when the duo came into Turn 2. Unfortunately, Plumb’s brakes were getting very worn by then and he was unable to slow his car down quickly enough and hit Martin’s rear bumper which pushed him out of the groove.
This put Plumb in the lead, and fortunately, Martin was able to recover quickly and lost just the one position. The two ran nose-to-tail until the No. 83 Porsche dumped oil through the downhill section of the course and the yellow flag flew again with less than 10 minutes remaining.
After the clean-up was completed (though many drivers complained the racetrack was still unsuited for racing) the Grand-Am officials threw the green flag for a two-lap dash to the finish.
When the checkered flag flew, Plumb was able to hold off Martin by 0.208-seconds making this the second-closest finish in KONI Challenge history. Though they just missed the victory, it was the season-best finish for the No. 59 ROUSH/Valvoline Mustang and remarkably all three of the drivers led the event; Martin headed the field for 11 laps, Phinny for four, and Roush paced the field for three circuits. No other team in the event had all their drivers lead the race.
As Martin climbed from the car he was both disappointed to finish as the runner-up, but happy to have the Regahen Racing cars take the top two positions.
As for the incident that knocked him out of the lead, he said, “We were racing hard, and I knew Hugh (Plumb) was light on brakes. I had brakes, but I was being a little conservative, and Hugh came in just a little bit deep. I knew he was going too light on brakes at the end, and I knew that when he hit me. I got crossed up and he got by me. I had some opportunities to get back around Hugh, but they were all going to be risky. The last thing I wanted to do was take my teammate out. Having a Rehagen car win was a team win. It was unfortunate that we got hit and turned sideways because we might have won it. But Hugh was certainly fast, and that’s the way it worked out. I’m not too upset about it, just disappointed. Jack (Roush, Jr.) and Ryan Phinny did an awesome job all day, (and) we all took turns at the front of the field.”
Pleased with his KONI Challenge career-best finish, Roush said, “This is a nice way to finish, with our best finish of the season. The car felt very strong out there. At one point, it felt like I was taking positions at will. It got a little harder at the end, when the tires went away, but the No. 59 Roush/Valvoline Mustang was awesome all day.” The team has run off six consecutive finishes of seventh or better to finish off the 2008 season.
Phinny did an outstanding job as the third driver, especially considering how different the KONI Challenge Ford Mustang handles as compared to other cars he has raced. He quickly got up to speed and was able to log lap times comparable with the leaders during his time behind the wheel.
“This car was very, very new to me,” he said. “I really didn’t expect the car to handle the way that it did. It took longer for me to learn the nuances of the H-pattern gear box and how a unibody chassis reacted. I’ve never been so slow to adapt to any car before, and I wish that there had been more time to log more laps before the race began to really get a feel for the car. Still, to get a podium finish in my first KONI Challenge race was a great experience.”
Left to Right,Dean Martin, Ryan Phinney, and Jack Roush Jr.
Overall, it was a tremendous day for the Rehagen Racing team with all three cars finishing on the lead lap and in the Top-10. The No. 60 Sunset Hills Vineyard Mustang won the race with Hugh Plumb, Mike Canney and Matt Plumb behind the wheel. The No. 52 Columbus Truck & Equipment Mustang, driven by Adam Pecorari, Ray Mason and Gene Martindale, finished in sixth. Overall, Ford Mustangs took five of the top-10 places in the event.
#52 Columbus Truck Mustang finished 6th
The No. 59 Ford Mustang, based out of the Rehagen Racing shop in Livonia, Mich., carries sponsorship from ROUSH Performance and Valvoline. In 2006, this was the highest-finishing Mustang in the series.